Pregnancy

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What is pregnancy?

Pregnancy is a condition in which a woman carries a developing baby, called a fetus, in her uterus. Pregnancy normally lasts about 40 weeks or a little more than nine months, and is divided into three 13-week trimesters. Most pregnancies involve one fetus, but pregnancies involving multiple fetuses, such as twins or triplets, can occur as well.

Pregnancy is a common condition of everyday life. There are about six million pregnancies per year in the United States, according to the American Pregnancy Association (Source: APA).

The first symptom of pregnancy is often a missed menstrual period. Other early symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, frequent urination, back pain, and fatigue. Symptoms can vary greatly between women and from one woman’s pregnancy to her next. Regular prenatal care can help alleviate many uncomfortable symptoms of pregnancy and ensure a healthy pregnancy and birth.

In some cases, pregnancy can lead to serious or life-threatening complications for mothers and fetuses, such as miscarriage and eclampsia. Seek prompt medical care as soon as you decide you want to have a baby or as early in your pregnancy as possible tohelp reduce the risk of complications. It is also important to continue your prenatal care as recommended by your licensed health care provider during and after your pregnancy.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have symptoms during pregnancy, such as high fever, severe and sudden pelvic or abdominal pain, vaginal bleeding, or a change in consciousness or alertness.

What are the symptoms of pregnancy?

Pregnancy usually lasts about 40 weeks or a little more than nine months, and women often experience different combinations of symptoms throughout the course of a pregnancy. Some women may experience many symptoms, and other women have very few symptoms. You might experience certain symptoms in one pregnancy and different symptoms in another pregnancy. Symptoms can also vary greatly in severity and duration.

Digestive and elimination symptoms

Typical symptoms of pregnancy that affect the digestive or urinary systems include:

Pain and discomfort symptoms

Common types of pain and discomfort than can occur during pregnancy include:

    Gynecological symptoms

    Gynecological symptoms of pregnancy include:

    • Missed or unusually light menstrual period, which is often the first sign of pregnancy

    • Vaginal discharge that is watery, white and mild-smelling

    Skin and vein symptoms

    Symptoms of pregnancy can affect the skin, veins and capillaries including:

    • Accelerated nail and hair growth

    • Dark spots on the skin

    • Gum sensitivity and bleeding

    • Hemorrhoids

    • Pregnancy-related skin conditions such as PUPP (pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy) and prurigo of pregnancy

    • Stretch marks

    • Varicose veins and spider veins

    Other pregnancy symptoms

    Additional general symptoms that can occur during pregnancy include:

    Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

    In some cases, symptoms that occur during pregnancy can be caused by or indicate a serious complication or underlying condition, such as preeclampsia. Seek prompt medical careas soon as you decide you want to have a baby or as early in your pregnancy as possible tohelp reduce the risk of complications. It is also important to follow up with your prenatal care as recommended by your licensed health care provider during and after your pregnancy.

    Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, are pregnant and have any of the following symptoms:

    What causes pregnancy?

    Pregnancy is the result of conception, which occurs when a man’s sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg, creating a zygote. Throughout the course of pregnancy, the zygote develops into an embryo. After eight weeks gestation, the embryo is called a fetus.

    Conception most often occurs due to vaginal sexual intercourse. When a couple cannot conceive naturally through intercourse, they may conceive through a type of assisted reproductive technology, such as artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization.

    How is pregnancy treated?

    Pregnancy is treated through prenatal care, which the mother receives from her obstetrical medical provider through regular visits during pregnancy. The goal of prenatal care includes ensuring the health of the mother and the fetus and preparing the mother for birth. You may receive prenatal care from an obstetrician-gynecologist, a certified nurse-midwife (CNM), or other licensed pregnancy health care provider. It is very important to follow through with your prenatal care as recommended by your health care provider during and after your pregnancy to best ensure your health and the health of your baby.

    Prenatal care interventions

    Prenatal care can include the following interventions and activities:

    • Educating the mother about what it means to have a healthy pregnancy and providing recommendations, such as vitamin supplementation, vaccination, and healthy lifestyle habits, which include proper nutrition and weight control

    • Monitoring the health and growth of the mother and the fetus through regular physical exams, ultrasounds, and other monitoring techniques

    • Performing tests and screenings for maternal and fetal diseases, disorders and conditions. These could include gestational diabetes and preeclampsia for the mother, and neural tube defects and Down syndrome for the fetus.

    • Preparing the mother for giving birth

    • Providing treatment for the mother’s pregnancy symptoms or maternal and fetal diseases, disorders and conditions, such as preterm labor

    What are the possible complications of pregnancy?

    In some cases, pregnancy is accompanied by complications, which vary in severity and duration. There are many types of complications that can affect the mother or fetus during pregnancy. You can best lower your risk of pregnancy complications, or delay the development of pregnancy complications, by seeking regular prenatal care and following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. However, despite proper medical care, you and your developing baby may be affected by adverse events during pregnancy.

    Complications that can occur during pregnancy include:

    • Adverse effects of pregnancy management

    • Anemia (low red blood cell count)

    • Birth defects (including brain damage, hearing loss, and blindness)

    • Gestational diabetes (diabetes that starts during pregnancy)

    • Heart failure

    • Low birth weight

    • Miscarriage (pregnancy loss)

    • Placenta previa (abnormally low placement of the placenta, partially or completely covering the cervix)

    • Placental abruption (premature separation of the placenta from the uterine lining)

    • Preeclampsia (also called pregnancy-induced hypertension or toxemia) and eclampsia

    • Preterm labor (labor that begins before 37 weeks of pregnancy)

    • Stillbirth

    What are the risk factors for pregnancy complications?

    There are certain risk factors that make you more likely to have complications during pregnancy. If you have any of the following risk factors, you are considered to have a high-risk pregnancy.

    Diseases that increase the risk of pregnancy complications

    Both preexisting conditions and diseases and disorders that develop during pregnancy can increase the risk of complications including:

    Other factors that increase the risk of pregnancy complications

    Lifestyle choices and other factors that increase the risk of complications of pregnancy include:

    • Consumption of alcohol, illegal drugs, or certain prescription medications

    • Exposure to pesticides, radiation, or other toxins

    • Low socioeconomic status

    • Obesity or being underweight

    • Pregnancy before age 18 or older than age 35

    • Smoking

    You can best lower your risk of complications, or delay the development of complications, by seeking regular prenatal care as recommended and following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you.

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    Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
    Last Review Date: 2019 Jan 5
    1. How Your Baby Grows During Pregnancy. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq156.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20140530T1113457636
    2. Pregnancy. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/pregnancy/Pages/default.aspx
    3. Pregnancy. Women’shealth.gov. https://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy
    4. Prenatal Care and Tests. Women’shealth.gov. https://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/youre-pregnant-now-what/prenatal-care-and-tests
    5. Skin Conditions during Pregnancy. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq169.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20140530T1116013564
    6. Foxcroft KF, Callaway LK, Byrne NM, Webster J. Development and validation of a pregnancy symptoms inventory. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 2013; 13:3
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